The truth hurts: Breaking Bad 05×14 ‘Ozymandias’ Review

“My name is ASAC Schrader. And you can go fuck yourself” Hank Schrader, 05×14 Ozymandias’

It wasn’t until the S4 episode Problem Dog that I truly realised how much I wanted Hank Schrader to win. It was during that episode with the fantastic “Except” speech that I wanted Hank to come out as the ultimate victor in the series. It wasn’t because he was necessary the good guy but because I felt like he earned it. He never stopped looking for Heisenberg not even after Gus Fring was uncovered as a drug lord.  That kind of determination should be rewarded because even if towards to end of his life he became ever so infected by the disease that surrounds Walter White Hank was a man of conviction. A man who wanted to bring his brother in law to justice.

Yet Breaking Bad is never about easy victories and everything Hank worked for is snatched away leaving Steve Gomez dead and Hank soon to join him.  Hank never gets the win he deserves but his death does allow both Skyler and Walt, Jr to break free – more on that later.

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Ozymandia by Shelley

Can Walter White be saved? Does he even want to be saved? Should Breaking Bad allow him a shot of redemption? These are all important questions and with Ozymandias we see both sides of that complex man.

On one hand he is genuinely distressed at the death of Hank, he tries desperately to save him – perhaps thinking he has a chance because he is Heisenberg and Heisenberg always finds a way. On the other hand he gives the kill order in regards to Jesse and out of spite lets his former partner know the truth about Jane.  Then we see Walter rushing to pack up his home and family in hope of a better life but this scene ends in horrifying fashion with a knife fight and a kidnapped baby.

It is never easy to know when Walter actually means something or when he is manipulating a situation to his advantage but perhaps the scene that sums up the man perfectly is the phone call to Skyler.

At first it is easy to read as a vile misogynistic rant against the woman he has spent a lifetime with, a temper tantrum from a man with wounded pride and a man who knows he has lost his family. Yet upon a rewatch it becomes a much more nuanced performance by Bryan Cranston, the way Walter belittles Skyler and basically claims she knows nothing about his business and that he warned her not to cross him could actually be read as Walter knowing the cops are listening in and giving Skyler an alibi. It is an interesting scene because if that interpretation is true (and the way he smashes the phone suggests he knew the police were there) then Walter is giving his wife a chance to escape jail. He is giving the police evidence that he worked alone and Skyler was innocent. Yet also there is enough contempt in that tirade that it clearly isn’t all made up, Walter may not hate Skyler as much as his words make out but there was always a part of him that resented her for not buying into his bullshit, for not supporting what he saw as a justified way of living.

So there you have it in one scene, Heisenberg who believes he is right and full of hate and Walter White trying to redeem himself just a little.  The episode ends in him doing the right thing by releasing baby Holly but then taking the cowardly choice and heading off for presumably a new life rather than face the consequences of his numerous crimes.

Another reading of the Walter/Skyler scene is that Vince Gilligan and writer Moira Walley-Beckett were channelling their own frustrations with the frankly misogynistic side of Breaking Bad fandom. You know the fans that insist week after week that Skyler is a “bitch” and should die. I like to see that scene as the writers saying you know you all sound absolutely horrible and stupid when you spew out this sexist rubbish? I’m not sure if it was intentional or not but knowing Gilligan’s own feelings on those fans and the great piece Anna Gunn wrote in the New York Times I would not be surprised if there was some meta commentary going on.

“I’ll be asking myself that for the rest of my life.” Skyler White

Someone who is more than willing to finally admit the truth and see the reality of her situation is Skyler.  Much like Jesse in previous episodes she gets her moment of realisation and of retaliation.  This is less about Skyler realising how much of a monster Walter is because she was perfectly aware of it before but now with Walt, Jr knowing the truth and all the escape routes blocked Skyler knows there is no way out so why stay by the man who started this to begin with? When it dawns on her that Walter is responsible for the death of Hank it is like a veil has been lifted – Walter always claimed everything he did was for their family and yet Hank is now dead. If he is capable of that then Skyler really should fear for her life and that of her children.

The tense moment in the White household was incredibly hard to watch as Walt, Jr starts understandably freaking out as his parents whisper truths and lies to one and another. When Skyler walks towards the counter she looks not at the phone but to the knife – and as she stands in front of her son the need to defend her family is as fierce as Skyler has ever been. Back in the first half of S5 (the events of which feel so long ago) she feared for her life, she feared for her children but this fear kept her down and scared because she knew how dangerous Walter was. Yet in this moment she knows Walter is not unstoppable, Hank for a brief time had arrested him and even if Walter was indestructible she has to stand up to him.

The knife fight that follows sent me into a state of anxiety, knives can slip so easily and I worried Skyler would take one to the stomach or Walt, Jr accidentally get stabbed. Instead the young White has a Big Damn Hero moment by not only stopping his dad but calling the cops on him! I really liked how he didn’t even hesitate and like his father he has the gift of lying, seamlessly spinning the story as Walter pulling a knife on Skyler and not the other way round.

However, things were about to turn nightmarish and when Walter grabbed Holly I wasn’t so much stunned because hey this is Walter what wouldn’t he do? But I was left feeling sick. Like the scene in ‘Buried’ when Marie makes a grab for a screaming Holly seeing a child in danger is so unbearable to watch. Skyler subsequently falling to the ground covered in blood as Walter drives away with her daughter is the reason why Breaking Bad isn’t just great TV but heart wrenching soul destroying TV.

This is a show where anyone can and will be put in danger because the spread of Walter’s acts and corruption means no one necessarily gets to be safe.

Further observations

+ Aaron Paul is back to doing that soul destroying work he does when Jesse is in a desperate situation. Truthfully this may well be the worse Jesse has been not only did Walter get away when he was so close to being arrested but Jesse is now being forced to cook or watch Andrea and Brock suffer.  On top of that Mr White the father figure who has already screwed him over so many times decides now is the time to be truthful and tells him about Jane AND orders his execution.  The swagger Jesse acquired at the end of ‘Rabid Dog’ has been lost and really I have no idea what his fate is going to be now other than a horrible life followed by death.

+ Turn in the spotlight: R.J. Mitte finally got his moment as Walt, Jr finds out the truth. Some terrific work by the actor in both the big scenes he had first at the carwash and then later at the house.  It has been a long time coming but Walt, Jr finding out the truth was not only needed it was damn satisfying. I also liked how he comforted Aunt Marie during the Walter phone call. He always loved his Aunt and Uncle so the fact that it is the death of Hank that makes him realise just who his father is makes it incredibly sad but fitting.

+ Comedy highlight: Only the opening flashback provided some comic relief, Jesse’s reactions to Walter’s choice of underwear reminded me just how funny the show was in its early seasons.

+ Todd Watch: On one hand Todd said sorry for Hank’s death and saved Jesse, on the other hand he has tortured Jesse and seems to be using him as a meth cook slave. So yeah Todd as creepy and polite as ever. Please Jesse make your final murder that of Todd if you can’t get Walter.

+ Death Watch: It has happened a main character (and a beloved secondary one) has died. I’m still numb to be honest even if after last week there was no way they could survive. Poor Steve never got a final badass moment but Hank went out in style.  I really hope no one else joins them any time soon apart from Todd and Walter who I want to see die but will probably survive to spite me.

 

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